Build Up or Tear Down?

Stones on the Beach

I have a habit of making cairns, especially when we spend time on the rocky coast of Maine. There is a challenge to find the right stones that will fit together, balance against the wind, and rise up to leave their mark on the landscape. These reminders provide some sense of identity along the somewhat anonymous coast that someone stood on that spot and created.

When creating in this space, one must acknowledge that eventually the pounding surf will remove all evidence of your work. The never-ending cycle of water will topple any temporary reminder of any creation, but something compels us to create near the ocean despite the inevitable. Something about letting the ocean reclaim these stones seems appropriate.

After creating these three cairns the other day, we walked further up the coast to another small beach and passed a couple with a child. We did the obligatory head nod and smile as we passed and eventually we turned around and headed back past our creation. To my surprise, we saw the couple and child again, at the site of our creation. Instead of admiring our work, they were standing at the path and throwing rocks to topple the cairns.

They must have seen it in my face when I gazed upon their actions and they spoke first.

Did you create these?


There was an awkward pause. Stones in hand, they looked at me as if they had done something wrong and were waiting for some clue from me on how to proceed. It was a struggle to fight my initial instinct to be angry or upset at them. I did not own the stones, the ocean, or the coast. My creation was temporary and the changing tides would return these stones to their rightful home within a few hours anyway, but the rush of emotion was still present. I knew I had to say something.

It is totally okay. Some people build up, and others tear down.

I smiled. Eventually they smiled too and restarted their stone throwing and we moved on.

When you build something, however temporary it is hard to watch it used for something else when you knew its original purpose. Change can be hard. What seems like tearing down, may just be a new and innovative use for what you built. But when someone else sees a new use for your creation it can still feel like a loss to you. Perhaps your creation had its run, served its purpose, but its time has passed.

So when someone is changing your creation ask yourself, is it time to build up or tear down?